By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It is a mission with similarities--in purpose, if not in method--to that of Park Cities Baptist, the 6,000-member church in which she was raised, and where Sheryl Sterrett remains on the formal membership rolls.
The Rev. Don Dendy, minister of education at Park Cities Baptist, views metaphysics and New Age spirituality as a fad that is incompatible with Christianity--in short, the devil's work. "It's another idea that Satan will use to distract from the real truth," he says. "It is a definite break from the tradition of what we call Christianity."
Sterrett, who once taught Sunday School at Rev. Dendy's church, says that as a Christian mystic, she is seeking to encourage independence--"to raise people's consciousness into higher levels to help [them] remember who they really are...and realize they are responsible for their actions."
That is completely at odds with Baptist teachings, notes Dendy. When someone decides "to take control of their own life," he says, it is impossible then "to give it up to Jesus Christ."
Sterrett dismisses the label of guru often applied to New Age leaders. "Over here, when we say guru it usually [identifies] some person who has a following" and "whatever he or she says is law.
"I don't want to be anybody's guru. If a person is not willing to take responsibility for themselves I'll send them to somebody else because I'm not going to take responsibility for somebody's life...What I think we should be doing now is to create a space where [people] can find their own answers."
Sterrett says she stopped going to church about 10 years ago because it "felt extremely limiting and oppressive...It just wasn't for me anymore. I grew beyond it."
To Rev. Denby, it is clear that Sheryl Sterrett has strayed. "It's possible for anyone who takes their mind off of what I would call the biblical concept of man." Those who embrace New Age spirituality are foolishly trying to generate a spiritual god within themselves, he says. They think "that gives them the power to be as God. That's the biggest deception that can be put out there."
It is in her condominium, just a few blocks north of the Park Cities Baptist Church, where Sheryl Sterrett practices what her family church views as heresy.
Dark antique furniture fills the living room of her second-story home. Paintings and photographs line the walls. Among them is a painting of her father by the late Dmitri Vail, portraitist of the Park Cities rich and famous.
A white cat with a tail that's almost translucent near the tip greets Sheryl Sterrett's clients. Her name is Tata (pronounced Ta-da). Sterrett says she is an integral part of her counseling team. "She knows energy. She works with energy [and is] extremely, extremely intuitive. Cats know how to take energy and transmute it.
"She's not really aging," Sterrett says of Tata, whose time on earth already exceeds 13 years. "You don't age fast in this energy."
When a client sits down for a reading, Sterrett's cat usually jumps up in his lap. The psychic says it's all for a purpose: "During the session she usually jumps down two or three times to release energy and then she comes back."
Relying on referrals, Sterrett makes her living through a diverse array of services, as a sort of New Age circuit rider spreading a modern-day "word." There are the twice-monthly moon meditation sessions held at various metaphysical retail shops; the all-day psychic development classes she conducts once or twice a month; the guest appearances before various metaphysical networking groups; and, of course, her individual clients (Sterrett has a two-to-three week backlog for scheduling sessions).
Occasional suburban newspaper articles featuring her revelations have helped build her business. She writes an occasional column in the Plano Star-Courier. And on the last day of 1993, she was featured in a front page story of the Mesquite News with her predictions for 1994: an upswing in the economy in September and the possibility of a tornado touching down in June or July. A tornado did touch down, but it was in Lancaster, in south Dallas County--and it arrived in the spring.
Years of visits to psychic fairs, practicing palmistry, and learning at the feet of well-known local teachers have made Sterrett one of the respected senior members of Dallas' New Age community.
Respectable psychics do not encourage their clients to see them on a weekly or even monthly basis--and, in fact, shun such repeat business. Excess "devotion" to a spiritual guide, says Sterrett, can lead into the darker side of the psychic and spiritual world--as in Dallas with Terri Hoffman.
A former client of Hoffman is among Sterrett's friends and clients. Hoffman "used the Eastern tradition in which you are totally devoted to your teacher as a way to attain enlightenment," the ex-follower said. It led to a "subtle seduction...I am lucky to be here."
When she discussed the matter with her long-time friend Sterrett--who she describes as "a pure spirit"--"she just listened and said it was best that she not get involved and that it was not for her to judge," but advised the woman not to give up control of her own life.